Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Early Pre-Literacy

I feel very conflicted about even writing this post. It would probably stress me out to read it if I was some other mother of a preschool-ish aged child. There's just such pressure around the whole business of learning to read. Yet it's very much on my mind. And also, I'd like to be able to read back when Blueberry is around this age.

So I've warned you. Read ahead at your whole peril.

Calliope has a couple of friends who are more advanced than her in the whole pre-literacy department. One of them knows all her letters and the sounds they make. The other, before her third birthday, was already writing her name (actually, I know an SMC two year old who can do that -- I'm looking at you, Rowan!) and also sounding out words. Like, she's at the earliest stages of reading already! At two!

This is not true of Calliope.

I keep trying to remind myself that it doesn't matter. My friend Amy, who is a teacher and whose daughter is advanced, reminds me that early literacy is not a predictor of early academic success. In Finland, children don't receive any formal education until age seven, and later in life, they become the world's best test takers. I wasn't an early reader -- I steadfastly rejected all of my mother's attempts to teach me to read before first grade -- and then quickly became an avid lover of books and reading. And not entirely to my benefit, I might add. I would have been a happier child if I spent more time outside, more time actively exploring my world.

All this to say... I know it shouldn't bother that C is where she is. But it does worry me, a little. I want her to keep up with her friends.

So I was thrilled when ?a few months back, she started identifying the "L" in lobby in various places. She still calls it lobby, actually, rather than "L," but I figure that's okay. Even before "L," she knew the "F" from the "F train" that we ride. And then she learned, sometimes, the "G" from the G train. And "C," for Calliope, of course.

And then my friend Emily mentioned that her daughter learned all her letters at (a young) two, simply by associating them with friends' first names. So next up was "A," for Abby... only Calliope calls it "A for Mommy." So I'm trying to teach her that Amy starts with A, also, just to clear things up. Then "E" for Eleanor. And she learned "P" for pizza all on her own. And just a few days ago, I taught her "S" for Seth and Susie. Now we are working on "M" for Mommy.

I posted on the SMC Forum for tips on helping kids learn letters, and so far, the big winner has been Lea.p Frog magnetic letters. When Calliope fits a letter into the magnetic school bus, it sings a song, "The "B" says "buh," the "B" says "buh," every letter makes a sound the "B" says "buh." She gets tired of it quickly, but looks at it often, since the refrigerator door is right behind me -- her favorite spot! -- while I'm cooking.

After another suggestion, I got out a basket of books -- one tiny book for each letter of the alphabet, each with 6 cardboard pages. Calliope only wants to use them as blocks.

I tried, based on another suggestion, getting out her alphabet puzzles again -- she mastered them months ago -- but she's not interested.

A friend from the Forum emailed me randomly tonight to send me a Pin.Inter.est type article of fun crafts and projects to do with your child to help them with pre-literacy. Coincidentally, the child of the author of the article is three, so my hackles were immediately raised, comparing my own child to the child in the article and finding all the ways my own child doesn't measure up. And then realizing I had little to no motivation to do any of these projects, anyway.

And then, after dinner, we went for a walk to buy dinner. In the elevator, Calliope asked, "Mommy, did you press the "S"?

I explained there were no "S"'s to press in the elevator. And then as we were getting off the elevator in the lobby, she pointed to the floor, where there was an "S" at the elevator opening, and said, "Look! An "S"!

So I asked her if she wanted to look for more "S"s when we went out. And she eagerly agreed. So we looked at signs during our one block walk, and she crowed excitedly each time she saw another "S." And I thought, you know, maybe I need to just stay the hell out of her way. She's got this.


  1. One of my former coworkers posted a video this summer of her then 25 month old recognizing every letter of the alphabet via flashcards (out of order). The boy is three weeks older than my son, who still can't sing the entire alphabet song in order (at 27 months). At first I felt like an inept mom, but then I realized we all have strengths, and right now my son is loving, kind, and hilarious. I'm sure that Calliope has many skills that these other children don't too!

  2. I've read a lot about how kids learn (a lot on Waldorf education and a LOT of John Holt, and also Penelope Trunk's homeschooling blog) and they all agree that you don't need to teach developmentally normal kids to read. They will figure it out when they are ready (just like they figure out how to talk) just from being around it all the time. Calliope is smart and when she's interested she'll figure it out. Reading isn't something that people learn better if they learn earlier. Often they learn it worse because there's so much outside pressure and they're not really ready for it or interested in it. No rush on the reading thing!

  3. I was starting to be concerned that Elena didn't know numbers or her letters...until recently, since being in speech therapy. It turns out she knows way more than I've realized or given her credit for, she just didn't have the language ability to express it!

  4. I think kids will start to figure it out when they are ready, but I've been lucky. My little one was obsessed with Wheel of Fortune at 6 months, and in complete honestly knew his letters before he was 2. But HE led the way. He LOVED making games of finding letters and numbers on license plates when we walked outside, or on store signs at the mall, or even the prices in a grocery store. LOVED it. Your daughter had a ball finding S on signs and the floor...she will show you her way. And be perfectly fine.

  5. Felix calls every letter "B" and knows no colors. I know it'll click for him when he decides he's interested.

  6. Yes, she's got this. Studies show that there's no difference in ACT scores of kids who read at 4 and those who read at 7. (After 7, there is a difference.) Also, most other nations do not teach beginning reading until 1st grade.